My 20-Minute Chakra Meditation

An “openminded sceptic” ventures a little deeper into New Age land

Wabi Sabi
The Small Dark Light

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Photo by Claudia Ramírez on Unsplash

Recently I’ve started doing something different with my daily 20-minute meditation: sending my breath to different regions of my body in turn, while giving verbal messages to the parts of my personality that I associate with those areas. In other words, I’ve started messing around with chakras. This may or may not surprise longtime readers, but it would surprise a lot of people I know in person, and it kind of surprises me.

I’ve experimented with lots of different meditation “styles” over the years, and have written about some of them here and here. But the reason this method is my current favourite is because it tackles practically all of the physical and psychological areas I’m working on at once, without overwhelming my capacity or taking three hours out of each day. I’ve only been practising the method for about a couple of months, and it’s already had such rapid and measurable effects that when a friend of several years recently asked how long I’d been meditating and I said ‘Since around 2017’, she replied ‘I thought you were gonna say you started a couple of months ago.’

With that in mind, I thought I’d outline the meditation format in case anyone wants to adapt it for their own use. Rest assured that it doesn’t require any interest in, knowledge of, or faith in chakras or the wider alt-health world.¹

Of course I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t wrap the essay’s practical purpose up in a bunch of theory and speculation, so what you get below is: (1) some background on why I started down this road, (2) some general thoughts on alt health vs health science, (3) a brief explanation of what and where the chakras are, (4) what my meditation consists of, and (5) some of the benefits I’m seeing from the practice so far. I promise that if you make it all the way to the end, you’ll have successfully read an entire blog post.

  1. BACKGROUND: ME AND MY HEALTH (SKIP IF YOU JUST WANT TO GET TO THE CHAKRA STUFF)
Photo by Magic Bowls on Unsplash

Everyone needs their own epistemological motto, and at the moment mine is don’t cling to anything; be open to everything. There are very few things I definitely believe in, but there’s almost nothing I definitely don’t believe in. This doesn’t just apply to spiritual and philosophical stuff, but to a greater or lesser extent to political, aesthetic, psychological and scientific matters too. (Open-minded-non-clinging exploration is basically what science-done-right is, of course: we treat it as a body of knowledge, but it’s really just a method. Onward, James Webb!)

Over the last while I’ve been applying the “openminded sceptic” approach to my physical and emotional wellbeing. While I probably have even less in common with the typical card-carrying New Ager than the typical diehard secularist, that doesn’t mean I won’t try anything once to see what happens. After all, the stakes are high — chronic illness is no joke — and I have nothing to lose but my time and money. As both of those are capitalist inventions, I say bring it on, healers of all stripes, and let’s get healing! (Shout out to my fellow openminded sceptic Rebecca, who’s been chronicling her extraordinary healing experiments over at Away Messages.)

My alt dabblings so far have included hypnotherapy, healing breathwork, cacao, sound baths with multiple practitioners, physical movement therapy, long-distance reiki, shrooms, acupuncture, tai chi and yoga (although the last few barely count as alternative any more do they?). Have all of these yielded tangible results for my specific complaint? No. But I believe that some of them have.

I found the breathwork disorienting and enlivening, the reiki session soothing and encouraging, the sound baths highly useful for pinpointing the darker emotions that get trapped in my body, and the movement therapy critical for unpacking the defeatist stories lodged in my body and unconscious mind. And somewhere in the last few months I’ve seen my energy and wellbeing increase enormously. Where changes to my diet, lifestyle and medication have only ever yielded slow and steady improvement, the recent shift has been so drastic that I can only put it down to psychosomatic/alt factors. I’m pleased to say that I’m currently healthier than at any point since this whole drama kicked off in February 2021, and I’m optimistic that I can keep improving.

Do enough sound baths and the chakra system is going to come up sooner or later. Of course I was vaguely aware of the concept before, but my recent brushes with it have stimulated me enough for me to move it from the pile marked “New Age stuff I can’t be bothered with” to the one marked “ancient wisdom worth playing around with a bit”. I don’t necessarily believe that things called “chakras” exist in some objective metaphysical sense — nor do I disbelieve it — but for now I don’t really care either way. What I can confirm is that I’m finding the system to be a highly useful conceptual tool when it comes to my health.

2) A FEW GENERAL THOUGHTS ON ALT THERAPIES AND THE MIND-BODY RELATIONSHIP (SKIP IF YOU LIKE YOUR THOUGHTS MANY AND SPECIFIC)

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

I use the phrase “conceptual tool” because, as sufferers everywhere are all too painfully aware, metaphors and conceptual models are all we have when it comes to chronic illness. As Adam Mastroianni puts it:

[M]uch as we have learned since Galileo peered through his telescope and Hooke peered through his microscope, we still live in the Dark Ages…Does your stomach hurt? You may join over 25 million Americans who are diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which is shorthand for “we don’t know why your stomach hurts.” Do you have cancer? Most of our state-of-the-art cancer treatments boil down to “Doctors try to kill you and you hope the cancer dies before you do.” Do you feel really depressed? Doctors can a) talk to you for a while and see if that does anything, b) give you some pills that might make you feel a little better a month from now (and nobody knows why), or c) electrocute you. (By the way, all those fancy drugs we have? Most of them don’t work for most people.)

At our current stage of scientific understanding, the whys and wherefores of chronic illness are almost as mysterious as viruses were 1000 years ago. ‘Stress is a silent killer’: sure, but why does it kill some people and not others, why does it affect some bodies worse than others, why does it afflict some bodies temporarily and others permanently, why does it affect one part of someone’s body and another part of someone else’s body, why do people with great mental health and enviable personal habits develop unexplained conditions out of nowhere, how much do the first 2–3 years of our lives set us up for the physical and psychological issues to come, what precise role do our genes play, how much are people with physical conditions predisposed towards negative emotion rather than vice versa, and so on and on and on? In the face of all this mystery, the word “psychosomatic” barely has any more explanatory power than “bad spirits” or “the vapours”.²

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t know anything at all, or can’t make educated guesses, or can’t run experiments on ourselves. Before we knew what a virus was people knew not to venture out naked in the cold; before skin tissue was understood people experimented with healing wounds until they found techniques that got results; and long before scientists discovered the vagus nerve and the enteric nervous system, everyone was well aware that their deep intuitions were “gut feelings” and falling in love gave them butterflies in their stomach.

So while we’re waiting for science to do its thing, why not acknowledge the fact that people have always known about the mind-body connection, and humour the idea that past civilisations’ best educated guesses on the subject may not always have been 100% nonsense? This doesn’t mean it’s time for hospitals to start treating the “humours” again, but it does mean that, when I take part in sound sessions that produce unnerving emotional effects on me using no more than bells marked “solar plexus”, and am told about an ancient theory that claims pains in specific parts of the body can mirror dysfunction in specific parts of the personality, I find myself intrigued. If there’s any chance there’s something to it, it’s worth investigating.

Besides, the chakra map makes for a nice visualisation, and the subsystems that run our minds and bodies are nothing if not highly partial to visual metaphors (as you’ll know if you’ve ever had a dream). As for the idea of dividing the self into a bunch of different parts and addressing them like separate people, it’s no more out there than many of Western therapy’s commonplaces: writing letters to people that you don’t intend to send, vocalising all the things you’re normally too afraid to say, dialoguing with your inner child, etc. After all, the subconscious is nothing if not partial to a bit of theatre (as you’ll know if you’ve ever had a dream).

On to the chakra system.

3) A BIT ABOUT CHAKRAS (SKIP IF YOU’RE ALREADY A CARD-CARRYING EXPERT ON THIS VENERABLE TOPIC AND JUST WANT TO GET TO THE MEDITATION PART ALREADY)

Photo by Sharon Pittaway on Unsplash

There are seven chakras, each associated with a different part of the body. They’re also associated with different symbols, syllables (“ham”, “yam”, “ram” etc), colours, elements, foods, physical exercises, you name it. But to me, the most interesting part of the system is the notion that each chakra corresponds to a specific set of emotions and states of mind. So if a particular chakra is “out of alignment”, or “not in balance”, that can show up as pain in the corresponding part of the body, feeling the corresponding negative emotions, or both.

The crucial implication is that physical and mental states are highly interrelated. So sometimes the best cure for feeling out of sorts in a particular way is doing exercises or eating foods that target the corresponding part of the body. And sometimes the best way to address a particular physical complaint is by attending to the corresponding need in your soul.

What I like about this theory is that, rather than straightforwardly asserting the supremacy of mind over matter or matter over mind, it suggests a bodymind in which mental and emotional states constantly inform each other. (Western medicine has been coming around to this idea in recent years.) No wonder the yogic approach to healing emphasises holism: medicine, diet, movement, communion with the divine, inner work, various physical and mental therapies, they’re all different prongs of the same integrated approach.

In order from low to high, then: the root chakra is physically associated with the pelvic region and psychologically associated with security, stability and general “rootedness”. Next is the sacral chakra, located in the belly region and associated with the emotions, creativity, indulgence, relationships, sensuality and sexuality. Then the solar plexus: just below the ribs, associated with energy, motivation, willpower and general vitality. The heart and throat are of course associated with love & forgiveness and honest, clear communication respectively. And finally we have the infamous “third eye” (wisdom, truth, consciousness, intuition) and, last but not least, the crown chakra (top of the head: where we interface with the divine).

Everyone has their own threshold for how far they want to go with this stuff, ranging from “it’s all ridiculous” to “time to spend half my savings on balancing treatments and healing stones”. Personally, I glance over a chart like this, sit up straighter at some points, slouch back down at others, and skip over the stuff about essential oils. But I take the notion that specific physical pains can carry highly targeted psychological messages very seriously, and the idea of sending messages of my own back in the form of affirmations makes a lot of sense to me. Most importantly, it feels good and changes my behaviour.

On to the meditation.

4) THE MEDITATION (SKIP IF YOU’D RATHER NOT READ THE CENTRAL POINT OF THE ESSAY)

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

The structure of the meditation is very simple: starting with the root, pay attention to each chakra in turn, focusing your attention on the appropriate part of the body, directing your breath to that region for at least five breaths, and silently giving the associated part of your personality the encouragement it needs. I don’t stick to a particular script because then it’d feel like I was, well, sticking to a script rather than genuinely talking to myself. But I tend to tell the root things like You’re safe, you’re home, you’re where you need to be, you’re enough. Meanwhile I imagine each inbreath travelling down to my pelvic region.

With the sacral chakra I might assure my various emotions that it’s safe for them to come out, they have the floor, nothing bad will happen if they make themselves heard in their full force (and as an Enneagram 4 I don’t say this lightly). Or I might just sit there and let whatever wants to happen happen, making myself into a spacious environment and “holding” whatever feelings choose to poke their way out of the darkness (thanks for the idea Thich Nhat Hanh!). Meanwhile I inflate my belly as much as possible on each inbreath, which happens to be a good breathing exercise for my chronic complaint that I should be doing anyway, so two birds with one stone.

Solar plexus: I assure myself of my energy, confidence and power, particularly willpower, which is a pretty important set of affirmations when you suffer from fatigue and a goodly amount of what Steven Pressfield calls Resistance. This is coupled with a specific form of diaphragmatic breathing — again, said to be useful for my condition — where I expand my ribs out on either side of my torso with each inbreath. (Much easier to do if you put your palms face up on either side of the base of your ribcage.) While my outbreaths are slow and gentle during the rest of the meditation, here I might temporarily switch to a series of short, sharp exhales, underlining the ideas of power, dynamism and getting things moving through my system.

Heart: on the inbreaths I remind myself I love myself, on the outbreaths I remind myself I love other people. As ever, no hard and fast rules here: sometimes specific people pop into my mind, sometimes they don’t. When it seems necessary I’ll spend the whole time focusing on myself; put your own oxygen mask on first, and so on. I like imagining myself as a human taijitu in which the good and bad parts of the package reinforce each other, allowing myself to picture the shadow side taking up half of my body until I’m just as comfortable with the dark half as the light half. I sometimes imagine this light & shadow spreading out to take in everything around me, in an attempt to forgive existence itself for containing evil within it.

Throat: appropriately, this is the only part of the meditation where I say my affirmations out loud. Things like I have something to say, I will speak the truth, people are dying to hear what I have to tell them, I love their company and they love mine, I love to listen to them, they love to listen to me. I know, it all looks very annoying-American-positivity-culture on the page, doesn’t it. But I can vouch from personal experience that it helps cynical Europeans too.

Third eye: gah, I don’t like the look of that on the page either. Just pretend it’s not an eye. It’s a nose, sniffing out the answers to your dilemmas. Or the Toenail of Truth. Whatever works for you. Anyway, at this point in the meditation I like to slide from affirmations into straight-up prayer: why try to manufacture my own wisdom when I can ask the Spirit to provide me with whatever I need? This might be a verbal asking, or just a receptive silence.

Crown: again, either prayer or inner silence here. Inbreath is for filling myself with the Spirit — I might visualise something entering through my head and percolating through my whole body. Outbreath could be for letting go of anything that isn’t the Spirit. My exact focus, or lack of focus, here varies from day to day, and I try to let my body’s instincts guide me. I associate this chakra with surrendering, giving up control, and freeing myself of the narratives that keep me repetitively chasing after the wrong things, or the right things for the wrong reasons.

5) THE BENEFITS SO FAR (SKIP IF YOU ONLY READ MY ESSAYS FOR WHAT YOU CAN GET OUT OF THEM AND DON’T CARE ABOUT ME AS A PERSON, SAFE IN THE KNOWLEDGE THAT YOU’VE HURT NOTHING BUT MY POOR, POOR FEELINGS)

Photo by Sam Moghadam Khamseh on Unsplash

It’s very easy for creative types to become unmoored and anxious, mired in doubt and indecision. That’s why it’s vital to keep reassuring the root that it’s planted in solid ground, that I don’t need to do anything to prove myself, that the point of all my activity isn’t to earn the oxygen I breathe but to express ideas, thoughts and emotions that will only rattle around my body causing trouble if they aren’t expressed. I’ve noticed that since I’ve started addressing my insecurities head-on in this way, I’ve been feeling a lot less shame about where I am and am not in life.

Rather than being motivated by shame avoidance, which leads to ticking life’s unticked boxes for box-ticking’s sake, I’ve been focusing more on what animates me and, well, letting it animate me. This unblocks my trapped energy, because trapping energy is frequently the body’s way of saying ‘You’re pursuing the wrong goals and I refuse to cooperate’.³ Meanwhile, I feel more comfortable with myself, at home in my own skin, on my own side. Happier to let things take the time they take as long as they’re the right things.

Attending to “sacral” matters every day is also vital, for a few reasons: (a) I have a deeply ingrained mistrust of anything sensual or sexual; (b) I have an equally deep fear of my body because it has a tendency to throw extreme curveballs at me; and © the very thing that makes my emotions daunting to look at — their size and power — is what makes it urgently necessary to spend some time each day tending to them. If I don’t choose to listen to them, they have plenty of ingenious ways of forcing me to.

I’ve noticed recently that I’m much less reactive and easily triggered by everyday nuisances and slights, and that when reactivity does come up it’s becoming more automatic for me to notice it, smile at it and move on. In other words, I can respect the existence of my disproportionate inner reactions without believing the stories they’re telling me, then fighting them, then believing them again and spiralling down into a meta funk.⁴

Since I started tending to the solar plexus, I’ve noticed that I’m more determined, less discouraged by obstacles, less offended by people’s (perceived) lack of cooperation, more willing to do what it takes to get the job done. Determination has always been a tricky one for me: what starts out as “this is something I’m burning to do” can tip over into “this is something I’d better do perfectly or else” in the blink of an eye. Which means vigilance is crucial. The test is always ‘Is this bringing me joy, or just creating emotional and physical tension?’ Unfortunately the latter has happened to me so often that I’ve been left feeling suspicious of motivation in general. Going back to the source every morning is helping me purify my intentions and replace my drivenness with drive.

Focusing on the heart is helping me to slowly become more accepting of myself, others and even the world itself. To my own amusement, I’m generally highly willing to accept the depths humanity can sink to in the abstract — most public scandals just don’t rile me up that much — but this chill absolutely doesn’t extend to my own mistreatment at the hands of those around me. A lot of this comes down to feeling threatened by others’ flaws, helpless in the face of them — basically, like a victim. But it’s also an external projection of the way I talk to myself about the long list of things I find wrong with myself.⁵ That’s what makes the complementarity of the chakra system so appealing: once the lower chakra work gets me feeling more secure / confident / self-accepting, that makes it much easier for me to live with my flaws, which makes it easier to forgive others’, etc etc.

The throat: now this is a big one! The inspiration for this part of the meditation comes from some advice I got following my movement healing session. I said to my teacher that although it was obvious from what had arisen during the session that I needed to express myself to other people more, there wasn’t much point if they weren’t listening. (As an introvert with a quiet voice I often feel I have to fight to make myself heard; sometimes I won’t bother because I don’t want conversations to feel like fights.) She replied that ‘People don’t listen’ isn’t a fact about the world but a projection based on my own perceptions about what I’m saying.

This made me realise just how defeatist my attitude towards interpersonal interactions had become after a sustained run of bad health and low energy, and how much that attitude had been determining the quality of those interactions in advance. My affirmations are now beginning to adjust that attitude, and I can see the results in the less guarded way I’m talking to people. So can they.

All of the above is making me feel less like a victim of my circumstances and more like an agent who’s actively moulding the environment around me. The last two chakras are where all that gets turned on its head.

Here, I turn myself from an agent into a passive vessel. Because no matter how much I purify my motivations and establish the right attitude towards myself, I’m still not going to get anywhere if I put my conscious mind, or egoic self, in charge of the show. Recently I’ve noticed myself getting slightly more at ease with the wu wei approach I’ve been aspiring to for years, trusting that my present situation, and all my future situations, are perfectly set up for me to slot into. As I can’t see the future there’s no point planning for it: much more efficient to let the Spirit handle it for me, and in the meantime set my mind to whatever’s in front of me today.

Actually, best to let the Spirit handle that too, which I think can best be achieved by silencing whatever inner voices are drowning them out. It’s amazing what solutions and answers can sometimes spring into my mind during the final part of the chakra meditation — even to questions I haven’t consciously raised.

Right, that’s enough from me. If you try the meditation yourself I’d love to hear what it does for you.

As they apparently never say in real-life radio communications, over and out.

Photo by Z S on Unsplash

FOOTNOTES

¹ I’ve used the word “alt” a lot here because I can’t bring myself to use the word…actually, I can’t even bring myself to type it to show you what I don’t want to type…OK, the word that begins with “w”, ends in “o” and has another “o” in the middle. I can’t explain to myself why I find this particular bit of slang so intensely irritating to look at, I just do.

² Same goes for “the placebo effect”. It’s obviously real and serves as a useful aid in medical studies and treatments, but we still don’t know exactly why or how it works. Whenever seemingly miraculous transformations and healings are dismissed with a ‘The placebo effect is very powerful’, I always want to say ‘How does that explain the core mystery at work here? Surely the mind having that level of quasi-magical power over the body is so amazing that we should be talking about the placebo effect itself in the same hushed tones people use for the claimed miracles?’

³ Not forgetting ‘You’re pursuing the right goal but in the wrong way, and I refuse to cooperate.’ The body hates impure motivations — shame, fear, perfectionism — almost as much when they taint projects that accord with our values as when they prod us into ones that don’t. There’s another post or ten in there somewhere.

⁴ Incidentally, if meta funk was a music genre it’d be my favourite one. Come to think of it -

⁵ I find it helpful to point out to myself that if I’m always failing to meet my own standards and so is everyone else, then the real fault is with the standards.

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Wabi Sabi
The Small Dark Light

Writer, composer and filmmaker, into soul music and Chinese philosophy. Editor @ The Small Dark Light